Greece get off to a poor start after blowing lead to tie 1-1 with Poland

Sunday, June 10, 2012
By Chris Lehourites, AP

WARSAW, Poland -- Even though Poland was the better team, it was Greece that had the best chance to win.

The Poles controlled play for long stretches Friday but still had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Greece in the opening match of the European Championship.

Both teams finished with 10 men, but it was Greece that missed its chance for victory in Group A when substitute goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved a penalty from Giorgos Karagounis with his first touch of the match.

“We're not happy because in the end we could have won it,” said Dimitris Salpigidis, who scored for Greece and won the penalty. “We were left with 10 men but we came back strong.”

Shortly after Salpigidis had equalized by knocking in a loose ball in the 51st minute, the diminutive striker was taken down by Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny in the area.

Szczesny was given a red card, and Karagounis was given the chance to again earn Greece an opening match win against the host nation at a European Championship. Eight years ago, Karagounis scored in the opening 2-1 win over Euro 2004 host Portugal.

It didn't happen this time, but it didn't diminish Greece's comeback.

“It not a small thing to come here, to Poland, with a good home crowd and to get this result after losing a man,” said Karagounis, the Greece captain. “At halftime we knew we had to recover and we did. We lost the penalty but even then we could have got another goal.”

Salpigidis didn't really change the complexion of the match when he came on to start the second half, but the diminutive striker certainly made an impact on the outcome.

Greece coach Fernando Santos gambled by leaving three attackers on the field after the loss of both central defenders in the first half — Sokratis Papastathopoulos to a red card after a pair of yellows, and Avraam Papadopoulos to injury. But it worked.

Greece equalized when midfielder Vassilis Torosidis, who dropped back into central defense after the dismissal of Papastathopoulos, crossed the ball into the center for Fanis Gekas.

Gekas and Poland defender Marcin Wasilewski collided and Szczesny jumped for the ball, but failed to clear it. That left the loose ball sitting patiently as Salpigidis ran in to fire it into the net.

“It would have been a lot worse if we'd lost this match. However, 1-1 isn't the end,” Poland coach Franciszek Smuda said. “The tournament is still open. We have two matches ahead of us.”

Poland controlled the first half, exploiting the right side on the field and eventually taking the lead in the 17th minute.

Two of the Borussia Dortmund trio that work on the right side set up the goal. Midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski crossed into the center for Robert Lewandowski, and the striker calmly sent a downward header under the charging Costas Chalkias.

“We dominated the first half and we could have scored a couple more goals. The second half was something totally different,” Poland defender Lukasz Piszczek said. “Greece stood up well against us despite playing with 10 men. We had trouble stopping the long ball and it cost us the first goal and then the penalty.”

Most of the 56,070 fans at the sold out National Stadium roared after the goal, and took to whistling loudly every time the outmatched Greeks touched the ball. Perhaps the Greeks deserved it as they looked disjointed and struggled to contain the Polish attack in the first half.

It was that kind of defending that helped Greece win the Euro 2004 title. After beating Portugal in the opening match of that tournament, the Greeks beat the Portuguese again in the final to win their only major title.

“We don't give up and we don't like to lose,” Greece striker Georgios Samaras said. “It's a question of mentality.”

The Greeks will next face the Czech Republic on Tuesday in Wroclaw, while Poland stays in Warsaw to take on Russia.

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